The photographer Sarah Lowie follows up SixMille by exhibiting and concluding another chapter in her life. Chaque jour, je suis avec toi tells the story of her intense romance with Django, a Charleroi rapper. All good stories come to an end.
"I don’t keep my distance,” Sarah Lowie tells us, kneeling on the large footrest in the living room of the flat in Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek that she shares with some artist friends. “I don’t see the point in taking photos if it isn’t personal. I know I wouldn’t enjoy it.” The 23-year-old Belgian belongs to a fascinating family of photographers (such as Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, and Antoine D’Agata) for whom artistic expression and life are one and the same.
In SixMille (named after the Charleroi post code), which was the subject of a publication and an exhibition at Contretype in 2016, this young woman documented a period of her life with the Madil City Gang, a group of black Carolo rappers.After being approached by one of them to take some photos in their recording studio, the photographer, then still a student at Le Septantecinq in Brussels, started to frequent the group regularly and came to share their life and their precarious living quarters. “We were all squatting the same place. Some people didn’t want to go home to their wife or their parents, others were on the street and had nowhere to go.”
Sarah Lowie was accepted by the group and, better still, became a member of it, sharing in the joys and miseries of her new comrades. “I loved this way of living outside of the system because it led me to discover the camaraderie that is part of African culture. Their way of life was very different to what I knew. It was extremely enriching. There were days when there was nothing to eat but it didn’t matter because we were together. When it was too cold, we all slept in the same room. When they see my photos, people are shocked to see such awful living conditions. We keep our distance from that kind of place out of fear, but I believe that this difference should be celebrated.”
Gripped by this human adventure, Sarah Lowie doesn’t pause or back away when employing her Nikon film camera. Quite the opposite. Her artistic activity cannot be separated from her life experiences. On paper, these candid images appear like black-and-white flashes showing a sliver of an intense existence full of “parties, lies, laughs, weed, troubles, excitement, manipulation, betrayals, dreams and derision, and alcohol.”
Epic love story
There were many girls who passed through, visiting the musicians. “There was nothing innocent about their presence and I had no desire to become one of them. Straight away, I set a boundary. I was very clear.”
Keeping a safe distance didn’t stop the young photographer from falling for rapper Django. A key period in Sarah Lowie’s life began, resulting in a new series of images, which are currently being shown at the Centrale and have been published in a book.In Chaque jour, je suis avec toi (“Every day I am with you”), the photographer continues to explore an autobiographical approach. This time, she no longer fades into the background of dark nights in Charleroi. She is fully present, head on, and in colour (digital), alongside the man she loves.
A tightly-bonded unit, the couple flirt, play, pose, and display themselves on Facebook and Instagram as if to proclaim their unconditional love to the world from which they had cut themselves off. “There is definitely a narcissistic aspect to it, but what interested me above all was the personal interplay. I wanted to show people the world we had created for ourselves, how the people we knew saw us and the way Charleroi saw us.”
In the privacy of their little bedroom, in the old TEC bus park, in nearby fields full of flowers, on the beach at the Mont-sur-Marchienne quarry, naked, in their underwear, clothed or half-clothed, the lovers put on display, in a natural, almost raw, style, a romance in which viewers can see a reflection of themselves. “What I went through with Django, we have all been through in our own different ways.”
As if to signify the end, as unpredictable as it was inevitable, of this epic love story, Sarah Lowie inserted drawings by her artist friend Suzanne Detrez into some of the images. They are suggestive of mould. “It ended. That’s life.”
Life goes on for Sarah Lowie, and we look forward to the next intense chapter of her photographic autobiography. “We’ll see what life has in store for me,” she says with a big smile.
> Chaque jour, je suis avec toi. > 27/5, Centrale for Contemporary Art